Francis Ford Coppola wished his old frenemy Robert Evans could have made the trip to a screening of The Cotton Club Encore, the new version of the 1984 film that Coppola spent half a million dollars of his own money to re-edit, expand and re-release.
Coppola directed and Evans produced the original film about the famed Harlem nightclub operated by New York gangster Owney Madden, where black entertainers from Duke Ellington to Cab Calloway performed to white-only audiences.
Despite a star-studded cast (Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Lonette McKee, Laurence Fishburne), the production as he described it was a messy stew of editorial conflict, shady financing, lawsuits and too many scenes on the cutting room floor.
Thirty-five years later, Coppola has reinserted 35 minutes of footage he said distributors weren’t comfortable with at the time.
“They said. ‘It’s too long, there’s too much tap dancing, too many black people,’” recalled Coppola during a post-screening Q&A Saturday at the New York Film Festival. The director said he didn’t understand their concerns, but complied.
“I was just afraid they would take the film away from me,” he noted.
The legendary director and multiple Oscar winner, went on to explain why Evans, 89, was unable to make the event.
Evans “is about ten years older than me and I had hoped he could be here to share it and he wasn’t well enough. He was the originator of The Cotton Club. Evans was going to direct it,” said Coppola about Evans, who ended up handing the project off.
“I said, ‘I can’t do it like The Godfather, with you second guessing me every second,” Coppola explained.
“The cast was my comfort,” he said. “So many of the principal players are gone but the talent was immense.”
Dancer, actor and choreographer Gregory Hines, who played hoofer Sandman Willams, died in 2003. Bob Hoskins (Owney) died in 2014. Fred Gwynne, known to TV fans as Fred Munster, played Owney’s sidekick. He passed away in 1993.
Evans lobbied unsuccessfully against Gwynne having a role in the film. “He said, ‘I will not have a Munster in my movie,’” Coppola recalled.
The film flopped at the box office, yet received two Oscar nominations — for art direction and film editing.
Coppola was joined at the Q&A by Maurice Hines, Gregory’s dancer brother in life and the film, and James Remar, who played gangster Dutch Schultz.
The director’s daughter Sofia was in the audience, as was his 102-year-old uncle, composer and conductor Anton Coppola.
Lionsgate will release The Cotton Club Encore in select theaters on Friday, Oct. 11. The pic will arrive on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital on Dec. 10 with exclusive new bonus material.